As more and more homeowners opt into photovoltaic energy generation, or solar panels, its becoming more and more common for home inspectors to run into the panels and the associated electrical equipment during the course of a home inspection. I don’t know about other areas, but some of the mid-tier and higher-end builders in San Antonio and especially areas like Boerne and New Braunfels have started to include solar panels as an upgrade or even as a base component. As such, more and more home-buyers are asking me “what condition are the solar panels in? How do I take care of them? How much money do they save me? etc.”
And your home inspector, at least in Texas, is not qualified to answer those questions unless they also happen to be a licensed electrician (they aren’t).
I can tell you that your photovoltaic-system is composed of the panels, which generate DC current (direct current), and an inverter, which transforms the otherwise unusable DC current into AC current (alternating current), which is what all of our homes are powered by in the US. Excess current generated is feed back into the power gird, to be sold back to the electric company at a pre-determined rate. The panels do accumulate dirt, dust, and debris and over time need to be cleaned in order to maintain optimum power generation.
“What condition is the solar system in?” I don’t know, or at least I don’t know enough to tell you what condition they are in with any confidence. I’m not a solar technician, nor am I an electrician, and I’m not going to bet any liability on whether they are performing correctly or not. I highly recommend you contact a solar company in the are, in fact, contact three of them, and ask for an inspection and what they charge to clean/service the system to ensure its functioning properly. Get multiple bids because pricing can vary wildly.
“How much energy and money will they save me?” Again, I don’t know. I would ask the seller for any information they have pertaining to the system, including prior electric bills so you can gauge what you’ll be paying throughout the year. When you get the solar technicians at your home, make the information available.
Astute home-buyer will realize that most solar panels sit on the surface of the roof, and that the roof surface has its own section in your home inspection report. Any solar panel sitting on the roof is attached through the roofing by making penetrations into the shingles/material in order to attach to the rafters/trusses below. This of course creates a great opportunity for water to penetrate the roof surface if installed correctly. While I do try to look at the connections on most single-story roofs, on roofs with steep pitches or on multiple story homes, my drone camera cannot determine the health of the connection. In all circumstances, we always recommend further evaluation by a qualified roofer or solar technician to assess whether the weather-tight seals used to attach the panels are in good condition. We will look at the roof decking underneath the surface of the roof its its accessible from the attic to see if we can identify evidence of water penetration, and of course document such.
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Home Inspector Kyle D. Scott
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